There’s more to buying a bike jacket than wanting to look cool like the Fonz. Modern motorcycle jackets are a wonder of 21st-century technology; they also have one of the most important jobs of all protective gear. Along with the helmet, the jacket protects the most vital parts of the body. A serious injury to the upper body can easily result in death, which is why choosing the right jacket is just as important as choosing the right helmet, and you should never go riding without both.

Price

Be prepared for lots of sticker shock when it comes to bike jackets. These garments are made of the latest and greatest materials. They have to go through expensive certification and testing regimens and they aren’t manufactured in the same quantities that mainstream clothing is.

All of this adds up to a potential outlay totaling hundreds of dollars. Buying a motorcycle is a large financial investment and so it is understandable that many bikers then balk at the idea of spending many hundreds or even thousands of dollars on buying protective gear, but this is one area where cheaping out is not the best strategy. That’s not to say that you should simply buy the most expensive thing out there, but that you should be willing to spend as much as you need, to get the right level of safety.

Iron Man

The key feature of a motorcycle jacket is the protection that it gives you, so you should pay special attention to the armor and other protective features that are included with your potential purchase. The most important areas that require hard armor pads are the shoulders, elbows, and back. These are the parts of the upper body that are prone to hit the road first and hardest in the event that something does go wrong and you come off at speed.

Any jacket that you are looking at should have armor pads in those areas or at the very least have pouches that let you add the armor pads of your choice to those spots. Materials such as Kevlar and high density foam are some of the choices when looking at armor pads. These days you even get ripcord-operated CO2 airbags in some jackets. Just be prepared to REALLY pay through the nose for these.

Direct crash protection isn’t the only way a jacket can keep you safe. There may also be reflective panels or piping that will allow other motorists see you clearly in the dark.

Material Girl

What should your jacket be made of? Traditionally bike jackets have been made of leather and even today leather remains a very good, abrasion-resistant material.

There are three main materials that a jacket can be made from, each with their pros and cons. Of course, many jacket makers use different materials in different places to perform the jobs for which they are most suited.

Denim is a strong, rip-resistant material that we all know pretty well from everyday jeans. Motorcycle denims will of course be better stitched and thicker. This is a great summer material since it breathes so well, but unless you have a fleece lining or something that zips into the garment, you’re in for a pretty cold winter.

Leather is a super popular option that really taps into the culture and fashion of biking. It’s probably one of the oldest protective materials associated with bikes. It still has a lot going for it too. It’s durable and provides decent abrasion protection but it doesn’t breathe, and without any sort of venting it definitely is not suitable for the summer or otherwise hot climates.

Textile jackets use various materials and weaves. You’re most likely to encounter nylon and polyester. These materials breathe well and are great for summer, but without a lining (fleece, for example) it won’t keep you warm.

Often you’ll find jackets that have a mix of materials, removable liners, and so on. This allows you to use one jacket year-round with just a bit of adaptation in between.

Textile Jacket

Leather Jacket

There’s more to buying a bike jacket than wanting to look cool like the Fonz. Modern motorcycle jackets are a wonder of 21st-century technology; they also have one of the most important jobs of all protective gear. Along with the helmet, the jacket protects the most vital parts of the body. A serious injury to the upper body can easily result in death, which is why choosing the right jacket is just as important as choosing the right helmet, and you should never go riding without both.

Cobra Style

There are many different cuts and styles of jacket to choose from.

The classic style jacket is all about looks. Any protection you get from it is purely incidental. Basically, use these for low-speed parades, but not regular riding.

Race jackets are filled to the gills with abrasion and impact armor. Tight, form fitting, and aerodynamic, they’re great for the track but not so great for a commute or sports touring in the rain.

Rain jackets are really just bike raincoats. Most of the time they have no armor of their own and should be worn over another protective jacket.

Sports jackets are also all about protection but, unlike race jackets, they don’t help you go faster and don’t fit like a power ranger suit.

Touring jackets are great for those of us with a bit of a gut; they’re protective and comfortable but sure as hell not sporty.

Watch Out for These

As with all protective gear it is very important that your jacket fits well. An ill-fitting jacket won’t protect you as well as it should and may even cause additional injuries in a crash or fall. Pay special attention to the manufacturer’s sizing guide.

Also see how practical the jacket is. Does it have pockets for all your stuff? Can the zippers and vents be operated with gloves on? Will you be able to live with this jacket on a daily basis?

Air circulation is also very important. You want some zippable vents for summer so you aren’t drowning in your own sweat, which is a problem for a whole list of reasons.

Also pay attention to any high-visibility features. You don’t need to get a bright yellow, green, or orange jacket, but having reflective piping or panels can mean the difference between a motorist avoiding you or smashing into you.

Safety Certification

I’ve written a separate article about safety certification that you should have a look at for the details, but here I’ll say that you should do a little homework and find out what sort of testing the jacket you are looking at has undergone and how well it’s performed. Read reviews on places like Amazon, where you’ll often find the accounts of people who have actually fallen with the gear on. That will give you a real idea of how well or how poorly the jacket will protect you. This is, after all, life and limb we’re talking about here, so you can cut your couch time a bit to properly research your jacket.

Eeeeyyyyyyy!

The basic facts are that a bike jacket is about being safe, feeling comfortable, being practical, and looking good – in that order. If you have your priorities straight then you’ll find a jacket that works for you. Check out some of my reviews for a good place to start.

Also, for the love of all that’s holy, match your jacket to your bike and riding style. Don’t be a dweeb and wear racing leather on your dual-purpose off-roader. Unless you enjoy people pointing and laughing, that is.